Minidoka Fences

Evacuees from the Assembly Center
at Puyallup, Washington…

(Eden, Idaho, 1942)
BY Francis Stewart
The National Archives

I was born in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center — Block 26, barrack 10. It was one of the ten American concentration camps — complete with barbed wire fences, tar paper barracks, and machine gun towers for holding Japanese-American citizens and nationals during World War II. Our crimes were working hard, owning valuable land, and running competitive businesses. The major offense, however, was being Japanese and looking like the enemy during a time of war. The punishment was executed without the commission of a crime and due process. For my parents and all my relatives, this meant three or more years of confinement in the Idaho desert. America did not exterminate us, but some government officials suggested sterilization. My other relatives in Hiroshima, Japan, lived in the family home 1,000 meters from atomic ground zero.

Although these events happened over sixty years ago, the effects still linger. The victims remained largely silent about the evacuation and detention. The Japanese value of “Gaman” or to bear the unbearable with dignity helped fuel the silence. The post-traumatic stress symptoms exhibited were similar to rape: denial, guilt, shame, depression, self-hatred, and anger. Their evacuation and incarceration were encouraged and supported by a diverse group promoting anti-Japanese sentiments on the West Coast: chambers of commerce, “Sons and Daughters of the Golden West,” veterans’ organizations, various farm organizations, local Elks Clubs, local Lions Clubs, candidates for elected offices, the “Oriental Exclusion League,” labor unions, various state granges, Hearst newspapers, some politicians, fraternal organizations, large and small businesses, individual citizens, the“Ban-the-Japs Committee,” the California Preservation League, and many others.

Minidoka Relocation Center
(Hunt, Idaho)
BY Department of the Interior War Relocation Authority
The National Archives

After the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor, it was not uncommon for hardware stores and local businesses on the West Coast to sell “Jap” hunting licenses. Although the individual designs differed, most stated “open season,” “good for the duration,” and “remember Pearl Harbor.” Similar licenses appeared after the terrorist bombing of September 11 in New York, and variations are still available on e-Bay or visible on the web today.

Our biggest enemy during this time was not all the anti-Japanese groups and racist hatemongers. Unfortunately it was the United States Government which so readily stole our lives. My Minidoka War Relocation Authority Resident Number was #11464D. I was named “Yutaka” after my grandfather. Its Japanese calligraphic character means “abundant.” For reasons unknown to me, my mother always told me it was “bamboo,” symbolizing resilience. Rather than living my life with a foreign name that sounded like “Yutakamatsuda” to non-Japanese, I use my middle name, “Larry,” to acknowledge the fact that I am an American. America is my country and my story is an American story.

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